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QR Codes to Enable Easier Mobile Marketing

The International Herald Tribune tells the story of the twenty-something with the ponytail that races down the steps to the platform to find that she has just missed her subway train and will have to wait seven minutes for the next one.

She is unperturbed about the unexpected delay. She pulls out her cellphone, snaps a picture of a corner of the movie poster on the other-side of the tracks and, a few seconds later, she has a list of show times at neighborhood theaters on her handset as well as a review of the film. With one more click, she can watch the trailer and buy tickets.

In Japan, this scene is so 'common' as to border on the banal, and the technology that makes it possible, QR codes, is so widespread that it is employed in dozens of retail industries. In Europe and North America, a handful of imitators are looking to the QR model to try to give "point and click" a whole new meaning outside Asia.

QR, or quick response, codes are a similar to 'bar codes' except they are square, look a bit like an ink blot and contain much more information. In Japan and South Korea, QR codes are used to link directly to a Web site, as in the case of the subway poster, saving the user the need to type an address on the tiny keypad of the phone.

As marketers seek an edge on competitors, QR codes are appearing practically everywhere in Japan.

"Somebody can go to the meat section of some supermarkets in Japan and use a QR code to find out what the cow ate, where it came from and where it was processed," said Junn Chanoki, the Tokyo-based head of food and agribusiness research for Rabobank, a Dutch investment bank. "Ninety percent of Japanese have a mobile phone, and most phones are connected to the Internet, so the number of potential users is enormous."

Clearly, here in the U.S. market we still have much to learn from the progress being made within the Japanese and South Korean markets. Mobile service providers in America and parts of Western Europe still promote their wireless broadband access offering from a technology and speed perspective, since there are few meaningful applications to describe to their subscribers.

Hopefully, mobile marketing will finally start to evolve here in 2007.

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